Love, kids and COLD WAR SPIES
Matthew Rhys is the first to admit his latest drama, The Americans, is asking the viewer to believe the unbelievable.
A show, which tells the tale of two Russian spies so deeply undercover they take on 24-hour American accents, are married with children, and are living the Stateside dream while mining information for the KGB, was always going to push the realms of probability.
But Rhys says that truth is always stranger than fiction, and this is exactly the case with Ten’s latest offering that bears a resemblance to Homeland – with more sex, guns and secrecy thrown in.
“You are asking the audience to take a fantastical leap, but most of it is based on specific stories. Creator Joe Weisberg said: ‘well actually that did happen a lot’. That’s the bizarre thing – life is usually more bizarre than fiction. So a lot of what you see in the series is based on truth.”
Rhys, who will be remembered by most as Kevin Walker in Brothers & Sisters, plays Phillip Jennings in The Americans – a man who is literally living a double life. On the surface he is a run-of-themill guy in suburban Washington with his wife Elizabeth ( Keri Russell) and two children Paige ( Holly Taylor) and Henry ( Keidrich Sellati). But the couple are actually undercover KGB agents who have been trained to think, act and behave like Americans while spying for Russia during the height of the Cold War.
The drama is set in the early 1980s – cue giant tape recorders, dodgy disguises and some iconic items on the sets that are sure to ring a few bells with audience members of a certain age.
Rhys says the plotline really isn’t as far fetched as it seems. “What is frightening is in 2010, 10 illegal Russian operatives were arrested in Jersey in New York working as illegals. Two of them were posing as a married couple who had children, which I find staggering. They were obviously not KGB but were part of the Russian Intelligence Service. They still had operatives in the US until three years ago. I understand they still do. They haven’t stopped because they caught 10 of them, it’s still going on. That amazes me.”
Rhys says researching his part was made a lot easier thanks to the internet, and it helped him get a feel of why his character, who is questioning his devotion to the motherland, is so enamoured with America. “When I was at drama school you needed to travel to the place where you were meant to be from, or take a tape recorder or go to the library. Now you just watch YouTube videos and go on the internet,” he says.
“There was a very long documentary called the Cold War. As for Phillip, the angle that he has when we meet him in the series, is he is on the turn.
“What I looked at was Russia postSecond World War – the Soviet Union he would have grown up in, and how stark and difficult a place that would have been for him. It helped put his feelings in perspective living in the US in 1981.”
To add to the dynamic of confusion, Phillip and Elizabeth are also finding their way with their domestic relationship.
They are initially married in name only and, as part of their job, regularly have to seduce and have sex with targets to get a result. But their growing love for each other soon causes problems for their espionage work. Rhys says the way they deal with this only adds to the great drama.